(Continued from The Temple of Rats)
Where were we? Oh yes - a high noon showdown at the Jodhpur airport.
"Wait here." The airport manager ran out to the plane and returned in a couple minutes. "Ok, give me your tickets." "We haven't bought them yet." "What! The plane is waiting." "How much are the tickets?" "For two people. it will be 5250 rupees [US$ 150]."
The Unit and I quickly tore off all our money belts and feverishly (no pun intended) began counting our Indian currency. The biggest denomination we had was a 100 rupee note. Fortunately we had lots of them. The total came to 5268 - 18 rupees to spare - a miracle!
At the x-ray machine I got delayed arguing about the safety of my film. As I ran across the tarmac to catch up with the Unit, my weakened bowels succumbed to all the anxiety, providing a final humiliation as I boarded the flight. There were more than a dozen seats left on the plane. Despite some personal discomfort, I luxuriated in the satisfaction that the yo-yo in the airport was lying.
Once again the Unit: An hour and a half later we were in Delhi but rupee-less. With his fever blazing, Jim threw an F5 Finger of God (remember Twister?) tantrum that garnered us a free bus ride from the domestic terminal to the international one where the moneychangers were located. However, since we did not have any tickets, the guards at the latter would not let us inside. Only two guys with guns - I left Jim with them as collateral.
No one at the airport had heard of the hospital recommended by our guidebook so we chose one in the diplomatic neighborhood that had a promising name - Veeranwali International Hospital. Of course, you can't expect a hospital in India to live up your foolish Western standards but the man who ran it, Doctor Kanawar Mahinder Singh, was a good, conscientious physician.
The hospital, on the other hand, was a bit on the scuzzy side. A dozen rooms, no hot water, no toilet paper (a real bummer when both us came down with diarrhea), mattresses so old and beat up I was afraid to peel back the sheets to take a look at them. Out the window was a lovely view of an adjacent building that had recently burned down. It was really too bad Jim was so out of it with his 104 degree temperature. I know he revels in these bottom of the barrel places and he can barely remember that al l we had to eat was buttered toast and boiled potatoes.
JimBo here: She forgot to mention that the bathroom smelled like a sewer - even the cleaning woman wouldn't go in there. At least it had a sit down toilet - a godsend when you have the sheets. One is not a true third world traveler until one has suffered diarrhea with only a squatter available. They did give us a television which gave us an opportunity to watch Baywatch in Hindi and endless, graphic footage of the recent midair airplane crash just outside of Delhi - just what we wanted to see days before our own departure from the same airport following an identical route.
To the hospital's credit, the medical services were good. Disposable needles and sterile cups were used for blood and stool samples. Dr. Singh ran tests and treated my symptoms while he waited for the results. Within a few hours of our arrival, the Unit's temperature jumped up to 102 degrees and she joined me in a double room. Our potpourri of symptoms included aching joints, chills, high fever, rasping cough, intense pain behind the eyes, severe dry mouth, exhaustion, dizziness, loss of appetite, watery bowel movements and spots on the back of the neck. That last one gave me creeps. We also suffered from itchy hands and feet but we hoped that was an allergic reaction to something in the hospital. Can you guess what was wrong? It is obvious in hindsight but, like I said, with both of us down there was no one to objectively evaluate the situation - for example, you're not going to die, you just need a neck and bowel transplant.
The diagnosis for the Unit was malaria, sinusitis and diarrhea. I won awards for malaria, amebic dysentery and severe dehydration. Never before have both of us been slam dunked by multiple illnesses at the same time. Our rule that the healthy person looks after the sickie and renders all medical judgments was null and void. Despite the hassles, our expeditious return to half ass decent medical facilities was the right move - a lesson I will not forget when I confront obstacles in the future.
The nurses, who could speak English but could not understand our accents, monitored us around the clock, periodically feeding us chloroquin tablets and various antibiotics. The latter made me nauseous and obnoxious. I nearly dislocated my diaphragm with the dry heaves - an American expression I never could satisfactorily explain to the nursing staff. My taste buds quit working as a side effect of the drugs. This was good because the food was rather dismal but bad because I continued losing weight. Somehow 25 pounds disappeared after we left Kashmir on Halloween night.
Doctor Singh released us from the hospital after four days. Our fevers were down but I could only walk about four blocks or hold up my head for more than an hour without becoming fatigued. The Unit recovered quicker and assumed command, booking us into the local YWCA for US$ 23 a night, the most expensive accommodation of our entire trip. I did not argue - it was time to return to the USA.
As we packed up for the last time, there was time to reflect on what we were packing.
- What toiletry items lasted the entire trip? Deodorant and aftershave - this should tell you something.
- Did the Unit run out of unmentionables? No - this should also tell you something.
- What was the most precious article in my modest, fit-under-the-seat pack? Would you believe a brand new, never-worn pair of polypropylene underwear? They were a reminder of the life I had left behind, a touchstone for America, that helped me to carry on during the most unpleasant of hygienic times. Occasionally in the evening I would unwrap its plastic bag ceremoniously, press the soft, clean material to my nose and inhale deeply. It reminded me that there are places where most everything is clean, pl aces where people bathe and change clothes frequently. For nine and a half months I fought the elements to keep these skivvies in their virginal state. But on this last night I did not pack them up - I was going to wear my beauties back to America!
The 1996 It Will Be So Awful It Will Be Wonderful Tour came to an end at 8 AM on November 19 when our KLM flight from Delhi to Denver lifted off. On the flight to Amsterdam, the plane ran out of western food and offered me Indian. By unfortunate coincidence, the same thing happened again on the flight to Minneapolis. "I've been eating Indian food for two months. It is last thing on earth I want. Bring me some decent food." I gave the cabin attendant the "don't flock with me" look and somehow another chicken dinner was found. Later when we arrived in the Twin Cities, I attempted to single-handedly consume an entire Big Mac despite the wizened condition of my stomach. It was extremely gratifying.
The journey through 23 countries was extraordinary despite my reluctance to spend money but even I knew when enough was enough. The world is a big place, full of mysterious destinations, exotic cultures, fantastic scenery, curious people and magic moments but there were no regrets when the wheels touched down on American soil. For the Unit I think it was enough just to know she would not have to endure another menstrual period on foreign soil.
We have no home, no jobs, no health insurance and no furniture. We will undoubtedly become floor people again once we wear out our welcome at the naive relatives who have never before accommodated long distance travelers returning from abroad. After the wondrous pleasures of clean air, food, hot water, food, a car, food, different clothing, food, a safe bed, food, potable tap water and more food dissipate, culture shock will inevitably follow. Reconciling what we have experienced with the incredible material comforts and conveniences of life in the USA takes time. Likewise, the freedom afforded by a fair government that respects the rights of the individual and the independence created by modern communications, private transportation, a free enterprise economy and sophisticated healthcare takes getting used to. In America you can choose your religion, your spouse, and your favorite hamburger joint. Clean toilets, any toilets, are the rule, not the exception. Just being in an un-overpopulated country
In my present state of mind it is hard to imagine how I could ever be dissatisfied or unhappy in such a land of wealth and opportunity. Survival is not a daily question, here we worry about our daily leisure time. How would you like to sell peanuts in the street 12 hours a day, seven days a week? Or huddle in your rickshaw at night because you have nowhere else to sleep? Do the local post office employees steam stamps off letters to resell them? I cannot comprehend what a local from some of the place s I visited would feel were he thrust into a modern American supermarket or a WalMart or Neiman Marcus. It must be like visiting another planet because sometimes that is how I felt when I was Out There.
There is a re-alignment of values and corresponding shift in priorities taking place. It is like resetting one's life. Not a reboot, as we techies like to say, where you restart and return to a known state. The question is whether the changes will be temporary or permanent. It may take a while, even years, before I know. In this case, the Unit and I may have gone too far, stayed Out There too long, to resume the complacency of the past. No matter, predicting the future has never been high on my list . Ditto security. Any challenge or crisis I face here will never stack up to the dilemmas I dealt with Out There, for example, that dramatic moment in the Jodhpur airport, so I am not worried.
We are both burning to get back to work. Imagine being paid to occupy a comfortable, anonymous cubicle in warm office building full of people that speak your language! I can't wait to get my hands on a difficult writing assignment. Unless my supervisor is a gun-toting illiterate, there is no fear. I have a lot of pent-up energy and owe a fortune to KLM and will soon owe a bundle more to my dentist. I can't speak for the Unit here but I have no doubt she has comparable feelings. What could be more terrifying than banging down an unknown road in the dark on the far side of the planet when your "better than ok" friend is berserk with fever? She still has nightmares. Perhaps a few months of commuting in heavy traffic, falling asleep in boring meetings or simply contending with the mundane will put us back in the groove - or will it be a rut? Who knows?
Will I want to go back Out There? Not soon - it usually takes several years before I get restless, unless, of course, someone wants to subsidize my wanderings. Maybe this time enough was truly enough and I'll be content to watch National Geographic specials. I used to say that one of the hairiest aspects of the adventure was giving up everything you have to do it. Well, it can be equally tough to return to normalcy afterward. Lets hope that some piece of me did not get left behind on the crazy but magnificent African continent. Or that the spectacular Karakoram will not lure me back to Shangri-la to teach English.
Stay tuned - I am online again with decent computing resources. The trip may be over but I have plenty more to say and the chronology of KlimaGrams is far from complete.
Disclaimer: This is the Voice of Authenticity, Sensibility and Sanity. I hereby certify that, despite JimBo's predilection for embellishment, all events described in this and the preceding KlimaGram, The Temple of Rats, are, in fact, completely true. Wouldn't you agree this man owes me big time?
Copyright (c) 1996 Jet City Jimbo. All rights reserved.